Davao Oriental’s Hidden Treasures
(written by Jojie Alcantara and published in SunStar Davao, Manila Bulletin, Mabuhay Magazine, and 7107 Islands Magazine)
Mati City, the capital of Davao Oriental province, was once a quiet seaside community now laden with beach resorts lining the coconut-filled shores, offering amenities and island tours to islets and secret coves. Skimboarders practically camp by the beach for an adrenalin encounter with the waves of the popular Dahican strip. It has now become a most visited destination three hours away from Davao City.
Beyond Mati, however, time seems to stand still (if you disregard the large satellite dishes you see in antique houses along the road). The province still retains its old world charm and quaint setting of untouched and unspoiled nature. Its geographical position (bounded by the Pacific Ocean in the East, Davao Gulf and Celebes Sea in the South) is blessed with a lengthy coastline filled with captivating beach shores, sometimes powdery white, other times basking in multitudes of tiny coral shells. It is marked by breathtaking panoramas of azure skies touching the deep blue Pacific as you wind your way through cemented zigzag roads, colorful coastal villages and forested mangrove areas.
Davao Oriental is part of the Eastern Mindanao Biodiversity Corridor and is cited as among the three “extremely high biodiversity areas” in the Philippines, an area endowed with Mother Nature’s rich natural resources. It possesses best kept secrets in its unique destinations — 10 municipalities and one city– the waterfalls, mangrove, turtle and Philippine Eagle sanctuaries, tribal villages, durian and other fruit farms, hidden lagoons, caves, scenic coastal villages and potential dive spots. Surrounded by Pacific waters, sightings of dugong (sea cow), dolphins and whales abound. Most famous and soon to be a heritage site is the phenomenal pygmy forest Mt. Hamiguitan, situated 5,345 feet above sea level and cradling more than 1,000 hectares of century-old wild bonsai trees and endemic flora and fauna.
In a documentation project with the provincial tourism, I excitedly started off with the east coast, and went back to my ancestral roots in San Ignacio, Manay (our clan has a secret beach hideaway recently opened to the public), before moving on to Taragona, Baganga, Caraga, Cateel and the last frontier, Boston (I have finally reached it without a visa!). We stayed overnight in each place and woke up to either a glorious sunrise or lazy rainy weather. Each town opened up to me like a blossoming flower, tentatively unfolding petals to reveal delightful surprises within.
Are the flowers ripe for the picking? Yes and no. According to Governor Cora Malanyaon, tourism in the province is still in its infancy stage. She firmly believes a lot of preparation has to be done before any launch begins. Inwardly, I was happy. Goody, I have all these pleasures to myself for now.
On the road, each stunning beach front elicited gasps from me. The locals warmly welcomed me, feeding me with lobsters, crabs, shells and shrimps (then apologizing for not having prepared much!!). I was practically swept off my feet in areas I never imagined to have existed in my birthplace. I have returned after several years to see the places still intact — the oldest cathedral in Caraga, and the stunning cascades of Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel. I was asking the driver to stop every now and then so I could compose my shots at a solitary islet, or cove. I joined a group of kids jumping from a high bridge to the river below while hanging perilously to capture their risky dives.
I fell in love with the raw and powerful beauty surrounding me. Majestic Toog trees towered over cliffs while the ocean’s mighty waves were crashing into uninhabited islets below us on our way to the last frontier of the province, the remote and beautiful Boston.
Though I’m bursting with pride while telling you to wait until tourism is ready, it is of mixed feelings that only a fellow Dabawenyo can understand. Those in remote areas, though eager to show their tourist attractions, are not yet equipped and ready for such steady invasion. Trainings, orientations, seminars, livelihood and facilities have yet to be properly introduced.
I have jumped from a habal habal to a far-flung house, looking for a toilet, and was hospitably lead to a kitchen, where tiya (elderly woman) pointed to a balde (pail) on the floor and proceeded to cook and converse with me while I sat on the “arinola” (portalet?). A dog lay sleeping beside me while I struggled to empty myself in haste lest it will growl at me. But it was better than out in the wild shrubs.
People live simply, without complex business rules. My cousin manages the Whitesand Beach Resort (with a rickety painted sign board near the road that you can’t see if you are speeding fast), and never charges for an entrance fee. Why? She would shrug and say, they always keep coming back and order food, anyway. Loyalty has a better reward from her. Our beach is quite a sight to behold.
Soon, Davao Oriental will blossom fully, given the right direction and proper time. Balikbayans are very lucky to come home to a more developed hometown. For now, if you are eager to have your own adventures, I suggest you closely coordinate with the provincial tourism office first, for your safety and guidance. Visit www.davaoorientalnow.com and www.mati.gov.ph to learn more about our beloved place.
I share with you a sneak preview of the province, with special thanks to Juancho Serrano, Maritess Arancana, and Ms. Ging Rodriguez of the Tourism Office, Gov. Cora Malanyaon for our stay in her beautiful house in Cateel. Thanks to Arthur Yap, Karen Alcantara, officers in every municipality, and my relatives in San Ignacio who more than welcomed us during our stay. I shall be returning more often.
Click images below to view the large files
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(Jojie Alcantara is a travel photographer and lifestyle columnist in Davao City, who explores off-the-beaten paths that she loves to share through her stories and images. Her articles and photography are featured in publications. View them in www.pbase.com/jojie_alcantara and www.dabawenya.me/madventures)